Indians are most
"inconvenient" when they are
stark, sardonic theme lurks beneath the narrative of Thomas King's
latest book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native
People in North America (Doubleday Canada, 2012; University of Minnesota
King stuffs the book with gems such as, "Christianity is the
gateway drug to supply-side capitalism," noting that the work is
an expression of "a conversation I've been having with myself and
others for most of my adult life."
It's not news to anyone that Natives have been duped, massacred,
assimilated, deceived and often betrayed outright since the days
of Christopher Columbus. But King racks up anecdotal evidence that,
governmental apologies notwithstanding, the prevailing attitude
is still more enamored of the dead Indian than the living.
King may be one of the few authors who can bring as many laughs
as tears to the subject. But that's what he does in this scathing
history of Native-white interactions from the beginning of European
settlement to today. He exposes in detail the colonial viewpoint
that still persists and outlines its supposed infatuation with the
"Inconvenient Indian." It's serious stuff, but King's unconventional
approach combining humor and biting, clever wit makes the book readable,
Reviewing incidents in the centuries-long dance between Natives
and non-Nativesthe book is thoroughly researched but with
no academic trappings such as footnotesKing surveys treaties,
removals, residential schools and relocations to conclude that these
were simply ways "to shuffle Indians out of the way of white settlement
and economic development."
He detours to describe Hollywood's love affair with the Indian,
noting that the love, again, only extends to the "Dead Indian"the
romantic versionrather than to the "Live Indian" or the "Legal
Indian." They are the real, all-too-inconvenient Indians.
King not only debunks the role assigned to Natives throughout
history but also shows the ways that such notions persist to this
day. His humor and easygoing, fireside-chat style make the dark
message clear and convincing. King frequently brings in his partner
Helen's ideas, as well as his own thoughts about how or why he should
present something. That makes the work casual and endearing, and
we can't help but be drawn to and empathize with the author.
King's vista spans both the United States and Canada because
the border doesn't exist for most aboriginal people. It also reflects
his bi-nationality: a Cherokee born and raised in California, now
living in Canada and lecturing at the University of Guelph.
When released in Canada nearly a year ago, The Inconvenient
Indian became the number one nonfiction book in the country, remaining
on the best-seller list for more than 20 weeks.
King's account is gloomy indeed, but at the end he offers a
glimmer of optimism. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the
Nunavut Land Claims Agreement along with the creation of the Nunavut
Territory in northern Canada, and the creation of Gwaii Haanas National
Park and Haida Heritage Site in western Canada are all positives,
recognizing Native sovereignty. But given King's take on the past
500 years, such treaties may be destined to remain isolated tokens
unless attitudes, both Native and non-Native, change dramatically.
This book can help generate the needed dialogue.
Beyond being a good writer, storyteller and academic, King is
a towering intellectual with an uncanny ability to cut through the
balderdash spooned out by governments, corporations and the mass
media. And he does it with delightful humor and self-deprecation.
The Inconvenient Indian should be required reading in every school
and university in North America.